We know that 74% of Americans have heard something about biotechnology, but what exactly is it? Food biotechnology is the latest advancement building on knowledge gained over the last 10,000 years of plant production. It is a process that has resulted in improved nutrition, taste, quality and freshness of many foods today.
• Food biotechnology is a safe, more efficient way to improve crops. • Selecting specific genes to add or extract is a more precise method of plant breeding, offering farmers more ways to improve crops. • Because of these and many other benefits, use of biotechnology is becoming increasingly popular. It is estimated that in 2003, 80% of the soybeans, 70% of the cotton and 38% of the corn planted in the United States used some form of biotechnology. • In addition for the year 2002, an international research organization estimated biotechnology crops were planted on 145 million acres worldwide. References: • NASS, Prospective Plantings, 2003 • ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications) – 2001 briefs
As mentioned earlier, food biotechnology has been evolving for 10,000 years. Beginning in 2,500 B.C., Egyptians were breeding geese to make them bigger and better tasting when cooked. Microorganisms have been used to enhance food production since before the turn of the 20th century. Foundations for food biotechnology including pasteurization, modern crossbreeding and the science of genetics were all discovered in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Food biotechnology as we know it today dates back to the 1970’s when researchers first began to explore improving food through genetic enhancements. In 1990 the first food products enhanced via biotechnology were introduced. These were an enzyme used in cheese production approved in the United States and a yeast used in baking approved in the United Kingdom. In 1994 the first whole food produced using modern biotechnology entered the U.S. marketplace. This was the FlavrSavr tomato. An herbicide-tolerant variety of soybeans was introduced in 1997; this crop is currently the most cultivated biotechnology crop in the United States. In 1998, the Hawaiian papaya industry was revived from near devastation with a genetically-enhanced virus resistant strain. April 2002, the genome of the first food crop—the rice plant—was released. With the mapping of the world’s most widely used grain, scientists expect they can identify the genes responsible for disease and drought resistance in the rice plant and help protect this staple for the world’s growing population.
This presentation will take you through the many areas food biotechnology impacts, including: Farming and the environment; food quality & processing; health & nutrition; and developing nations. We will discuss specific applications which are currently on the market and some that are being researched in these areas. Because of the many applications and benefits food biotechnology offers, crops are grown in 16 countries around the world. And many more countries accept imports of grain and food from genetically enhanced crops. Reference: ISAAA Global Status of Biotech Crops in 2002 and 2002 general news info on India’s approval of Bt cotton.
Those working in agriculture have always been interested in preserving the environment. Through the science of biotechnology, even more possibilities exist to decrease the impact of farming on the environment. The environmental benefits of biotechnology overlap with those for farmers: One environmental benefit seen from biotechnology is the reduced use of pesticides. Some biotech crops have a built-in ability to protect themselves from harmful insects. In fact, Bt protected sweet corn requires only 2 pesticide applications per acre whereas non Bt-protected corn requires as many as 12 pesticide applications per acre. Biotechnology is also providing opportunities to decrease soil erosion because some biotech crops require less tilling, helping to preserve topsoil and reduce runoff into streams and rivers and provide habitat for wildlife. This may allow farmers to have fewer tractor passes over their fields – conserving fossil fuels. Reference: National Center for Food & Ag Policy – L. Gianessi, 2002
Farmers benefit from biotechnology in many ways. Farmers are able to see higher crop yields with biotechnology crops due to: Less competition in the field between crop and weeds; Less crop loss due to insect damage or plant disease. Farmers have the potential to reduce their production costs by applying fewer pesticide applications or use less fuel because of fewer passes over the field for spraying. Farmers have more efficient weed control with a biotechnology protected variety because fewer herbicides are needed. Since they get more out of their crops, there is a greater return on their investment. In fact, the ISAAA estimates that in China, farmers growing Bt cotton increased their income an additional $750 million nationally. The study reports similar results in South Africa, where half of farmers are women. The reduced insecticide sprays required with Bt cotton allow the farmers more time to care for their families or generate additional income from other activities. Reference: ISAAA Global Status of Biotech Crops in 2002
Virus resistance is another type of genetic enhancement available to farmers. Food biotechnology helps prevent debilitating plant diseases and insect pests, ensuring a healthy supply to meet consumers’ ongoing demands. For example, from 1993-1997 papaya trees in Hawaii were infected by the deadly ringspot virus with production decreasing by nearly 40%. In 1998, papaya seeds resistant to the deadly virus were distributed to Hawaiian farmers and more than 1000 acres of the biotech papaya have been planted to revive the industry. This was a joint effort between Cornell University and the University of Hawaii researchers, among others.
Some biotechnology crops are used as feed for animals. Numerous sutdies have been done in the US and Europe comparing animals fed crops derived through biotechnology and those fed traditional varieties and: showed no difference in animal growth and overall health; the animal products, such as milk, meat & eggs have been tested and found to be nutritionally equivalent and as safe for consumption as those from traditional varieties. Research is currently underway to improve the feed available to farm animals. One example is to make herbicide-tolerant alfalfa – thus the farm animals would consume fewer weeds making their diet more nutritious. Reference: L. Gianessi – Plant Biotechnology: Current and Potential Impact for Improving Pest Management in U.S. Agriculture: An Analysis of 40 Case Studies, June 2002 Additional animal biotechnology information (future developments): World fisheries – overfished If fish is to remain an important food for many populations throughout the world, then production must improve. (One company in MA) researching ways to bring Atlantic salmon to market size in half the time. They are “improving” the metabolism and maturation of the salmon.
Biotechnology is important to our food quality and processing because: Many of our processed foods contain ingredients from biotechnology crops such as: soy flour, soy protein, corn meal, corn syrup, corn starch, chymosin (in cheese), and oils – like corn oil and canola oil. It has offered us oils that are lower in saturated fat and high in oleic acid which means these oils are more stable for frying without further processing. Finally, research is underway to delay the ripening of fruits and vegetables so they stay fresher longer.
The science of biotechnology is allowing us to produce more healthful food products – with direct benefit to the consumer. As consumer demand grows for these types of products, you may see: Vegetable oils that do not require hydrogenation – making them a more healthful product; Vegetable oils with enhanced levels of nutrients, such as beta-carotene and Vitamin E.
The United Nations World Food Program estimates that more than 800 million people around the world go hungry everyday. World hunger is a complex issue that biotechnology can help solve.
Food biotechnology will allow more food to be produced on less land. Resource-poor farmers in developing nations could use biotechnology crops to achieve greater yield with reduced crop production costs bringing economic benefits as well as helping to feed the rapidly growing population. For example, one researcher, Dr. Florence Wambugu of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, employed biotechnology to produce sweet potatoes that resist the “feathery mottle” virus. This could produce 20-80 percent more food, and is projected to improve food security and the health of millions of African families. Dr. Wambugu says that there is the potential to double African crop production through the use of food biotechnology to control viral diseases.
Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) is a public health problem in 118 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates between 100 and 140 million children are suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Children become blind, sick and may even die from vitamin A deficiency. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates 2 billion people are anemic – mainly as a result of iron deficiency. Lack of iron can be harmful to many pregnant women and children. One potential solution to both of these world health crises is “golden rice” – so named because of its yellowish color. Since rice is the most commonly eaten grain in the world, biotechnology scientists are developing ways to add vitamin A and increase the iron content in rice to contribute in solving these hunger and malnutrition issues. Reference: WHO: Nutrition – micronutrient deficiencies – updated 03/13/2002.
Consumers benefit on many levels from food biotechnology. As we have discussed, the reduced pesticide and herbicide use on biotechnology crops results in a cleaner, better environment for all. And, as consumer demand grows for better quality food processing, for oils that are more temperature stable as well as fruits and vegetables that are made to delay ripening – we may see better quality food products in our supermarkets. Healthier, more nutritious cooking oils can also offer consumers improved nutritional profile foods.
Let’s review some of the many crops and products currently available from food biotechnology. The crops currently available include insect-resistant crops, such as Bt field and sweet corn, and Bt cotton. Other crops currently on the market are: virus resistant papayas and yellow squash, and herbicide tolerant crops including: soybeans, cotton, field corn, and canola. More than 70% of the soybeans and more than 30% of the corn planted in the US (for the year 2002) will be a biotech variety. When you purchase processed foods in the grocery store containing “soy” or “corn” as an ingredient you are likely getting a food containing some amount of a biotech derived crop. Even more crops have been commercially approved including: herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets and sweet corn and Bt and virus-protected potatoes. References: Pew Initiative 2001 and National Center for Food & Ag Policy – L. Gianessi 2002
• American consumers remain positive about the products and benefits of food biotechnology. • In 2002, biotechnology stories totaled 5,412 and reached 600 million people worldwide. • A telephone survey conducted in April 2003 among 1000 adults revealed the following: • Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe food biotechnology will provide benefits for their family in the next five years. • Some of the benefits expected include: • improved food quality and taste (43%) and • health and nutrition (40% respondents), • decreased chemical/pesticide use (19%). ( NOTE: The respondents in this survey could choose more than one benefit when responding to this question.) • More than half would choose products modified to taste better or fresher. • Food biotechnology helps protect against insect damage, reducing the need for pesticides on crops. Two-thirds of those surveyed would likely buy produce that has been enhanced via biotechnology, resulting in fewer pesticide applications.
A few opponents of biotechnology question the safety of foods produced using biotechnology. However, much of the criticism is based on emotion, not grounded in fact. In fact, several government agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency are committed to ensuring the safety of these foods. A number of other health and food organizations also support the use of food biotechnology. These include the American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association and the Institute of Food Technologists. There have been over 15,000 field trials in the United States, and to date there is no evidence of any harmful effects. (data as of February 2003) Since its birth in January 2000, more than 3,200 renowned scientists, including 19 Nobel Prize laureates, signed a declaration endorsing food biotechnology as a safe, environmentally-friendly and useful tool to help feed the developing world. In October 2001, the European Commission released its report compiling data on 81 projects and 15 years of research – saying in essence that foods derived from biotechnology are safer than conventional counterparts because biotechnology is more precise and undergoes greater regulatory scrutiny.
The FDA classifies foods produced using biotechnology the same as products that are not enhanced. This means they are held to the same high labeling standards as all other foods. A label disclosure would be required if . . . Allergens were present in the food. Level of naturally occurring toxins increased. The nutrient composition or profile was changed from its traditional counterpart.
Most American consumers are comfortable with the FDA policy just described. A recent survey shows 70% either support or are neutral to the current guidelines. While some critics feel that the FDA should require a special label to indicate that a food has been produced through biotechnology, the FDA continues to believe this has no scientific basis and it would be confusing to consumers. Labeling would also require extreme measures. Consider, for example, that one bottle of ketchup may contain a dozen tomato varieties provided by just as many suppliers. Keeping the varieties separate throughout production and labeling accordingly, if even possible, would be an overwhelming task and very costly.
The labeling of food biotechnology products has been one of the most debated issues surrounding this technology. When the International Food Information Council asked consumers what additional information they would like to see on a food label – only 2% replied “genetically altered” or anything related. In January 2001 the FDA released draft guidelines for voluntary labeling of foods produced using biotechnology. This document is open for comment at this time, and is not in its final form. The FDA is not permitting “GM” or “genetically modified” or “GMO”(meaning genetically modified organism) to be printed on food labels because consumers found these terms confusing. The term is also inaccurate, a distinction without a difference since most traditional foods have also been genetically modified. According to the FDA, information on a food label should be clear and not misleading. A term like GMO- free is misleading because it could be construed to appear superior to other products. If someone wants to be certain they are not purchasing products that are derivatives of food biotechnology, they have the option of buying “certified organic” foods.
The future for food biotechnology is tremendous. It has the potential to: Make farming more efficient by using less land to grow more crops and meet the increased food demands of the world Reduce natural toxins in plants Provide simpler and faster ways to detect pathogens Extend freshness in our produce
Food biotechnology offers the potential to further improve our nation’s health and the health of developing nations. We have already discussed the work currently being done with “golden rice” and the potential it has to help combat hunger and malnutrition related diseases. Researchers in Japan have reduced the allergenicity of rice – this has tremendous public health implications – as researchers learn more - it may be possible to do this with other foods. You may one day purchase fruits and vegetables with increased antioxidant content that may reduce your risk for cancer.
The following are products in the research pipeline: Wheat is a staple among households worldwide. Currently, researchers are testing ways to make an herbicide-tolerant wheat – it would eliminate competition between the crop and weeds for soil nutrients, water and sunlight. Pineapple plants are currently being tested in research fields to eliminate or reduce plant damage from microscopic worms feeding on the roots of these plants and causing mass destruction. Examples of other items currently being investigated are: 1) tomatoes with increased lycopene content, an antioxidant thought to reduce the risk of some types of cancer; 2) using the flowering mustard plant, arabidopsis, to learn how plants can withstand adverse weather conditions such as flood, drought, and high saline soil; and 3) developing raspberries that are virus resistant.
We will discuss some of these items even though they are not food biotechnology. They do involve plants and crops. Plant-made pharmaceuticals are the latest evolution within the realm of biotechnology. As the name suggests, this process uses genetics to enable plants to produce protein-based medicines to treat diseases and save lives. These proteins are extracted from the plant and developed into pharmaceuticals. Edible vaccines are among the most innovative approaches for administering new vaccines. For example, researchers have investigated putting a vaccine into bananas that would protect against food borne pathogens. And lastly, you may one day be able to admire your green grass without having to mow it as frequently.
The Past, Present and Future of
What is Food Biotechnology?What is Food Biotechnology?
Food biotechnology is the evolution of
traditional agricultural techniques such as
crossbreeding and fermentation.
It is an extension of the type of food
development that has provided nectarines,
tangerines and similar advancements.
Technically Speaking...Technically Speaking...
Food biotechnology employs the tools
of modern genetics to enhance
beneficial traits of plants, animals, and
microorganisms for food production.
It involves adding or extracting select
genes to achieve desired traits.
Evolution ofEvolution of
Food BiotechnologyFood Biotechnology
Food Biotechnology:Food Biotechnology:
From Farm to ForkFrom Farm to Fork
• Farming & the environment
• Food quality & processing
• Health & nutrition
• Developing nations
Farming & the EnvironmentFarming & the Environment
• Reduces the use of
• Decreases soil erosion
• Helps protect water
• Conserves land & fossil
Farming & AnimalFarming & Animal
• Animal feed: biotechnology vs.
• Animal products: milk, meat & eggs
• May improve feed supplies
Food Quality & ProcessingFood Quality & Processing
• Many processed foods use
• Improved fat profile in oils -
more stable for frying
• Delayed ripening = fresher
Health & NutritionHealth & Nutrition
• More nutritious products to meet
• Some oils may not require
hydrogenation, and therefore be
low or free of trans fatty acids
• Potatoes with higher solid
Current Products ofCurrent Products of
Food BiotechnologyFood Biotechnology
Consumers SupportConsumers Support
Food BiotechnologyFood Biotechnology
• Nearly two-thirds believe food
biotechnology will benefit their family
in the next five years
• More than half would choose products
modified to taste better or fresher
• Nearly three-quarters of consumers
would likely buy produce protected
against insect damage
Source: IFIC/Cogent, April 2003
Food BiotechnologyFood Biotechnology
Is SafeIs Safe
• Food biotechnology is one of
the most extensively reviewed
agricultural advancements to
• Studies to date show no
evidence of harmful effects
U.S. Labeling Policy forU.S. Labeling Policy for
Food BiotechnologyFood Biotechnology
• FDA safety standards are consistent for all
• A label disclosure would be required if . . .
– Allergens were present in the food
– Levels of naturally occurring toxins had increased.
– Nutrient composition or profile had been changed from
its traditional counterpart
Consumers SupportConsumers Support
Labeling PolicyLabeling Policy
• Nearly two-thirds of consumers support
the FDA labeling policy
Source: IFIC/Cogent, April 2003
FDA & Labeling GuidelinesFDA & Labeling Guidelines
• Jan 2001 FDA draft voluntary
labeling guidelines released for
– “GM” or “GMO” would not be allowed
• Consumers found confusing
• Misleading because inaccurate
What Does the Future Hold?What Does the Future Hold?
Food biotechnology has
the potential to:
• Reduce natural toxins in plants
• Provide simpler and faster ways
to detect pathogens
• Extend freshness
• Increase farming efficiency
Future Health BenefitsFuture Health Benefits
• “Golden rice”
• Reduced allergens